5 Meal-Planning Tips for Better Lunches in 2019

You can thank yourself later.

January  4, 2019

I need not tell you about all the benefits of bringing lunch to work. It’s typically way less expensive and there are infinite possibilities, compared to ordering the same sandwich or the same salad from the same spot every single day.

But the reason I bring lunch to work is none of those. It’s time. Because if I go out for lunch—even if I’m just grabbing something and scurrying back to my desk—do you know what everyone else is doing at, uh, 12:36 in the afternoon? The same thing.

Planning and prepping lunches over the weekend means skipping the long line and having that much more time to enjoy the food. Which is the whole point, right?

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Below are my standby strategies to make sure I have a good lunch every day. Now, if you’re like me, you’re totally fine eating the same thing five days in a row, so long as the following week has something else in store. But if that sounds like a unique kind of torture to you, just mix and match two of the strategies below, then alternate day by day.

1. Make a big batch of this. Add carbs.

Tuna and egg salad are a given, but there are plenty of other mayo-y (or not mayo-y!) salads to learn to love, especially if chickpeas are involved. (Besides the one listed below, don’t miss this one or this one.) Whatever you make, keep it in a container in the fridge and stash bread or crackers in your desk. Come lunchtime, all that’s left is assembly.
A+ pairing: tiny carrots, celery stalks, and lemony hummus (all store-bought is just fine).

This recipe from The Oz Family Kitchen is an all-time favorite for our SVP of Brand Suzanne D’Amato.

Mayo? None here. This Georgian egg salad is butter-based, which makes it downright dreamy on toasted bread (I highly recommended something grainy and seedy).

This tuna salad is all about the vegetables: Bell pepper! Green beans! Artichoke hearts! You could pile it on bread, like in the recipe, but my go-to pairing is Triscuits.

2. Soup is your friend. Like, your best friend.

One pot of soup goes a long way. Divide it into pint or quart containers, then refrigerate or freeze. Bring in 6 to 8 cups (say, three pint containers or two quart containers) at the beginning of the week, store in the fridge, and pat yourself on the back for the days to come. Bonus points if you have various soups stocked in the freezer, so you can enjoy a couple different kinds in one week.
A+ pairings: the simplest salad (whatever green you want, plus a shake of oil and vinegar, and sprinkle of salt and pepper) and/or a hunk of bread with butter, Greek yogurt, or cheese.

Roasted vegetables plus water plus miso equals your new favorite soup. Your oven and blender will all but make it for you.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve made this soup—I’d have at least a dollar! Both pork and tofu make it super filling (read: no afternoon slumps).

This 15-minute masterpiece is perfect for that Sunday night when you’re like, “Aw fudge! I forgot to prep my lunches for the week!”

3. Take a cue from the salad bar.

Look around our team kitchen during lunchtime and you’ll see the same thing over and over—people making salads. But they don’t spend a lot of time doing it. Instead, they’re just dumping this, that, and ooh, yeah, some of those into a bowl, tossing with a couple forks, and getting back to work. Here are my must-have components, which I bring at the start of the week in separate containers or bags: Lettuce, preferably a sturdy one like kale. A protein, whether that’s roast chicken, beans, or an egg. Something raw and crunchy, like chopped cucumbers, thinly sliced fennel, or shaved beets. Something fatty, from oil-olives to crumbled feta. And a dressing; if you want to make your own, see Tip #4, or stick with good ol’ oil and vinegar.
A+ pairing: a hunk of bread with butter, Greek yogurt, or cheese.

As easy as roast chicken gets. Cook over the weekend, then bring the cut-up meat into work.

From dried to al dente in an instant! Seriously, no soaking required.

Extra-good when paired with a gingery dressing.

4. Follow this grain bowl formula.

Grains + jammy egg + sautéed or roasted vegetables + dressing. Tried-and-true grains: brown rice, farro, quinoa, wheat berries. How to cook ’em? Look no further than this game-changing tip from Lindsay Maitland-Hunt. My go-to boiling time for a jammy egg is 7ish minutes; peel, store in a container in the fridge, then slice in half right before eating. The best vegetable is whatever is in season (right now, I’m all about roasted parsnips). And here are some dressings to drizzle on top.
A+ pairing: trick question, none needed!

The pizza wizards over at Roberta’s in Brooklyn came up with this habit-forming, extra-garlicky dressing.

Tahini, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and soy sauce sound like odd bedfellows from afar, but a splash of water turns them into best friends.

How do you make ranch dressing even better? Add white miso.

5. When in doubt, choose pasta.

You know whose lunch I always want? Whoever is eating pasta. Many pasta recipes tell you to “serve immediately,” but I haven’t met one of these that I didn’t enjoy the next day. Which is to say, any pasta can pretend to be a pasta salad: big-batch friendly and happy to hang out in the fridge for days. I like to swap in whole-wheat pasta and pick something that’s vegetable-dense. Or just add some peas or sautéed kale or whatever vegetable sounds delicious to you. Pasta is flexible that way.
A+ pairing: the simplest salad (whatever green you want, plus a shake of oil and vinegar, and sprinkle of salt and pepper).

A legendary pesto that’s just as creamy as it is bright green. Toss in roasted sweet potato chunks or boiled carrot coins.

If it’s from The Zuni Café Cookbook, you should probably make it. Sautéed chard would be great here.

Looks like the first day of spring—but relies on frozen peas. Shhh, our lil’ secret.

What are your best tips and tricks for not-sad desk lunches? Please share in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Elizabeth
  • Jeanette Marchand
    Jeanette Marchand
  • Frederique Matteau L.
    Frederique Matteau L.
  • Susana
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Elizabeth January 20, 2019
I’m on my 2nd batch of Curried Chickpeas. So satisfying! I am enjoying it for my Sunday lunch today.
Jeanette M. January 17, 2019
I work in a part of the city with just a few eateries; sadly, my lunch selection dwindles down to the same old green salad because of a gluten allergy. So, thank you! I'm grateful for this inspiration to create flavorful and healthy lunches that are anything but "same old". Now I just have to decide which one comes first ... Cheers!
Frederique M. January 11, 2019
love it! My budget is tight and I work in an industrial sector with all restaurants at least 25mins walk away. It's bringing a lunch or eating the sad cafeteria food. It's not exactly hard for me to choose to make the lunch! however, these recipes are definately some i would try! Will break up the routine of "yesterday's leftovers" and salad with tuna! Thanks!
Susana January 5, 2019
These are all fantastic and inspiring recipes, most seem quite satisfying while simple and healthy. I absolutely love packing lunches, I definitely like to use it as an opportunity to treat myself to a slow and relaxing break rather than face the lunch rush.
Emma L. January 6, 2019
Thanks, Susana!
Megan A. January 11, 2019
I also love packing lunches. For me, lunch is generally dinner leftovers with some sides/snacks, but I am always so happy to have homemade food midday at work.